The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr and Mrs X complain about the Council’s decision to deregister them as foster carers, causing them to lose their livelihood. They also complain about the Council’s refusal to use the statutory children’s complaints process. The Ombudsman finds no evidence of fault in how the Council made its decisions.
- Mr and Mrs X complain about the Council’s decision to deregister them as foster carers. They say they have lost their livelihood as a result. They also complain about its refusal to consider their complaint under the statutory children’s complaints process.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
- If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I spoke to Mr and Mrs X and considered their complaint. I also reviewed the Council’s response and the documents provided. I gave Mr and Mrs X and the Council the opportunity to comment on a draft of this decision and I considered the comments provided.
What I found
- The Department for Education publishes a guidance document on the fostering services regulations called “Assessment and approval of foster carers”.
- This sets out guidance as to how a Council should make a decision on foster carers. It says it would be appropriate for the decision maker to:
- List the material taken into account;
- Identify key arguments;
- Consider whether they agree with the approach of the relevant panel;
- Consider whether any additional evidence is now available;
- Identify the reasons given for the recommendation and; give reasons for their decision.
Statutory children complaints process
- The Department for Education publishes a guidance document on the statutory children complaints process called “Getting the Best From Complaints”.
- This explains the purpose of the complaints procedure is to ensure the voices of children are heard.
- The Council considered Mr and Mrs X should no longer continue as foster carers and it presented an “allegation report” to the Fostering Panel, recommending deregistration.
- Mr and Mrs X disputed the contents of the Council’s report and made a complaint. The Council responded to the complaint and said any issues around the report would be addressed by the Fostering Panel.
- The Fostering Panel was critical of the Council’s investigation and its report. The Panel recommended Mr and Mrs X continue as foster carers.
- Following this, the Council decided to deregister Mr and Mrs X.
- Mr and Mrs X complained to the Ombudsman about the Council’s decision.
- The Ombudsman decided not to investigate the complaint at that time because it was reasonable for Mr and Mrs X to use the Independent Review Mechanism (“IRM”) to challenge the Council’s decision.
- Mr and Mrs X also complained to the Ombudsman that the Council had refused to consider their complaint under the statutory children’s complaints process.
- The Ombudsman told Mr and Mrs X the Council was not at fault in this decision.
- Mr and Mrs X used the IRM to review the Council’s decision. The IRM was critical of the Council and recommended Mr and Mrs X continue as foster carers.
- The Council upheld its decision to deregister Mr and Mrs X.
- Mr and Mrs X complained to the Ombudsman about the Council’s decision to deregister them. They again insisted that the Council should have considered their complaint under the statutory children complaints process.
- In response to my enquiries the Council said:
- It considered the IRM report and decided to uphold the decision to deregister. The key issues that led to this were the overall concerns about the care provided to children in placement and an irretrievable breakdown in trust and confidence between the Council and Mr and Mrs X.
- The complaint was not accepted under the statutory procedure because the complaint was very clearly about injustices to Mr and Mrs X as local authority foster carers, and not about an injustice to the children in their care.
- A list of the material taken into account;
- Key arguments and whether the decision maker agreed with the IRM Panel;
- Reasons for the Panel recommendations and reasons for its decision.
- I cannot say the Council’s decision to deregister Mr and Mrs X was wrong, simply because they disagree with it. I must consider whether there was any fault in the way the decision was reached.
- The Council says the decision maker considered the IRM report but decided to uphold her previous decision to deregister. It has explained this was because of overall concerns and a breakdown of trust. I am satisfied the Council considered the information available and made a reasoned decision. I cannot say there was fault in the decision making process.
- The Council says Mr and Mrs X’s complaint was about themselves, rather than the children in their care and therefore it did not have to use the statutory process.
- Mr and Mrs X’s complaint was centred on their continued engagement as foster carers and it was not a complaint made on behalf of the children they cared for. The Council therefore did not have to use the statutory process. I find no evidence of fault in the Council’s refusal to do so.
- I have completed my investigation. This is because I find no evidence of fault in how the Council made its decisions.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman